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James Webb Space Telescope reaches its final destination about 1 million miles from Earth

Mirror wing on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. (NASA/Released)

At 2 p.m. on Monday, thrusters aboard the James Webb Space Telescope fired for 297 seconds, three ticks shy of five minutes. The thrust added about 3.6 miles per hour to the world’s largest and most powerful telescope as it arrived in its final destination about 1 million miles from Earth.

“Webb, welcome home!” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “Congratulations to the team for all of their hard work ensuring Webb’s safe arrival at L2 today. We’re one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new views of the universe this summer!”

The Webb telescope has about seven times the light-gathering ability of the previous gold standard space telescope: Hubble. Webb is able to see infrared radiation to detect light not visible to the human eye.

Hubble revolves around the Earth in low orbit, allowing for repairs and upgrades that have extended its lifespan. Webb, though, will orbit the sun a million miles from Earth, too far for a spaceship to reach it for maintenance — at least for now.

The telescope launched on Christmas on a Ariane 5 rocket provided by the European Space Agency, a partner in the mission alongside NASA and the Canadian Space Agency.

Webb’s mission is to explore every phase of cosmic history from within the solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe, NASA said.

Now that Webb is in orbit, its primary mirror segments and secondary mirror have been deployed from their launch positions. Engineers will begin a three-month process of aligning the telescope’s optics to nearly nanometer precision.

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